Press Release

IACHR Publishes Report on the Importance of Universal Ratification of Inter-American Human Rights Treaties

November 19, 2015

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) today is publishing the report “Considerations Related to the Universal Ratification of the American Convention and other Inter-American Human Rights Treaties.” The report seeks to encourage universal ratification of all inter-American instruments as a necessary step toward full protection of human rights within the region. It also endeavors to cultivate a general respect for human rights in the Americas by encouraging not just universal ratification of these instruments but also compliance with their provisions.

The IACHR has on a number of occasions emphasized the importance of universal ratification of the instruments of the inter-American system as a critical ingredient to ensure the full respect for and the guarantee of human rights in the Americas. The Commission understands that the current system of varying degrees of ratification leaves millions of people at a disadvantage in terms of the degree of international protection of their rights, as it keeps the door shut to a protection system of a complementary nature which may be vital for persons in a specific situation of vulnerability.

The IACHR also stresses in the report that application of the standards of the inter-American human rights system throughout the Americas has been an uneven, slow-moving process requiring specific, deliberate, and immediate efforts on the part of the States to close the gap between the principles established in inter-American treaties and their implementation in practice.

The report discusses a number of concerns and the progress made toward universal acceptance of human rights treaties within the Americas, with the idea of encouraging the OAS Member States to reflect upon the obstacles that stand in the way of achieving this objective. The Commission notes that the report works from a set of premises that underlie the goal of universal ratification of inter-American instruments.

The universal nature of rights implies that the protection of civil and political rights is closely linked to the protection of economic, social, and cultural rights. It also creates an obligation incumbent upon States, to devote particular attention to those social sectors and individuals that have historically suffered forms of exclusion or have been victims of persistent prejudice. States must also take immediate steps to prevent, reduce, and eliminate the conditions and attitudes that either generate or perpetuate discrimination in practice.

These principles are embodied in the instruments that govern the workings of the inter-American human rights system. Because this is an integral system for protection, ratification of not only the American Convention but all inter-American instruments is essential to achieve the best protection possible of the human rights of all persons.

The full observance of human rights is important for achieving solid and inclusive democracies. The ratification of international treaties protecting human rights is an indicator of the quality of a country’s democracy. In turn, ratification promotes respect and guarantee for the obligation not to discriminate and for the principle of equality—the framework principles of the international system for the protection of human rights and essential for ensuring coherent, representative, and sustainable democracies.

Moreover, ratification of inter-American treaties sends a public message regarding the priority attached to the protection of human rights. It also opens a door to international protection when the national system fails to offer a remedy. This principle has important repercussions for the justice system, as the administration of justice is the first line of defense in the protection of human rights at the domestic level.

The IACHR takes this opportunity to point out the nexus between a solid democracy and the strength of its judicial branch, particularly with respect to the protection of groups, communities, and sectors that are especially at risk of violation of their human rights, and people beset by poverty and exclusion. The Commission recommends that States organize their structure so they can properly respond to human rights violations, including conduct by their own institutions, branches of government, programs, and services.

It is important to note that, inasmuch as the instruments of the human rights system are integral and mutually reinforcing, the IACHR believes that there are four levels of participation by the States in the inter-American system. First, there is a universal, minimum level of protection that exists with respect to all 35 OAS Member States, whose inhabitants enjoy IACHR-supervised protection of the rights recognized in the American Declaration and the OAS Charter. Second, there is a group of 23 Member States that have ratified the American Convention and continue being State parties to that instrument. Next, there is a group of 20 States that have accepted the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court and their acceptance is still in force. Finally, seven Member States have ratified all the inter-American human rights treaties.

This report reiterates that the scope of the IACHR’s jurisdiction extends to the entire region, and in that sense the Commission may analyze and review petitions related to States that have not ratified the American Convention on Human Rights and other inter-American instruments but did ratify the American Declaration, which is a source of international obligations for all the OAS Member States. However, from the standpoint of the IACHR, universal ratification of the inter-American human rights instruments is essential to achieving full protection of the human rights of all persons in the hemisphere.

The IACHR underscores the pressing need for the Member States of the Organization of American States to employ all the means available to them to overcome impediments to the ratification and full implementation of all the inter-American instruments. A priority objective of the IACHR is to assist the OAS Member States in fulfilling their human rights obligations.

The report “Considerations Related to the Universal Ratification of the American Convention and other Inter-American Human Rights Treaties” responds to the priority objective in the IACHR Strategic Plan for 2011-2015 of promoting the observance of human rights, knowledge and understanding of the system, and universal acceptance of the regional human rights instruments. It also responds to the inputs the Commission received from State and non-State actors during its process of reform, between 2011 and 2013.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 134/15